AEC CIOs Focus on Strategies to Improve Economic Productivity 

Farkas Berkowitz & Company and Bentley Systems reported in June on the conclusions reached during their Sixth Annual "Harnessing Information Technology Workshop" held in Washington, D.C. Participants included 60 chief information officers (CIOs) from top design firms.

By Consulting Specifying Engineer Staff August 14, 2007

Farkas Berkowitz & Company and Bentley Systems reported in June on the conclusions reached during their Sixth Annual Harnessing Information Technology Workshop held in Washington, D.C. Participants in this invitation-only event included 60 chief information officers (CIOs) from the ENR Top 200 Design Firms, who gathered to discuss “Strategies to Improve Economic Productivity.”

During their roundtable discussions, the CIOs concluded that:

Information technology (IT) is viewed as an enabler of increased sales and a driver for collaboration, productivity improvements, knowledge retention, recruitment, and other business functions.

IT ranks among the top three investments of design engineering firms and has a place at the corporate strategic table.

IT rollout rates in firms are currently limited by knowledge transfer rates.

Training has become a key requirement for IT investment success and consequent productivity gains.

Collaboration and security are equally essential to a firm’s viability.

The CIO’s role within infrastructure firms is changing–from technology guru to more of a business strategist (with more than half of the CIOs in attendance coming from the project-delivery side of the business).

The workshop’s theme grew out of discussions at last year’s workshop on newly released data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (USBLS). The data showed a troubling gap in long-term productivity gains by architectural and engineering services versus other business sectors. To gauge the current state and future outlook of IT at leading architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms, Farkas Berkowitz & Company and Bentley conducted a survey, the results of which were used to set the 2007 workshop agenda.

The workshop began with an address by Norman Mineta, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce. The next day, the CIOs listened to presentations and participated in discussions on the principal barriers to economic productivity gains and ways to overcome them. A few highlights follow.

In his opening remarks, CEO Greg Bentley was pleased to report a sharp inflection upward in economic productivity gains for architectural and engineering services, as revealed in the most recent USBLS update. Said Mr. Bentley, “We at Bentley have been very cognizant of the infrastructure community’s strong and innovative responses to engineering resource shortages. We are extremely gratified to see so many in the professions taking advantage of the business process and workflow improvements made possible through the use of advanced IT solutions. Moreover, we are quite optimistic about further and accelerating productivity gains.”

In the morning session on “Leveraging Information Technology to Improve Productivity,” John McQuary, Vice President of Knowledge Management, Fluor Corporation, an engineering, procurement, construction, and maintenance services company, made it clear that organizations need to focus on the results of technology implementations and their value to the business, rather than on the technology itself. Consequently, to best leverage IT, McQuary said organizations need to “align technology objectives with the business strategies, use the technology to support the global community,… integrate the technology into work processes, and use it to make better decisions earlier.”

In the session on “Managing the Distributed Enterprise,” Glenn Sakaki, Managing Director — Execution Technology, Hatch, a consulting, engineering, technologies, information systems, and project and construction management organization, addressed the many challenges that distributed enterprises face today, including shortages of skilled people and other resources, shorter time to market, the need for global standardization, and work sharing—among an organization’s own globally distributed resources as well as those of joint-venture partners. In the case of the latter, Sakaki said the principal IT challenge is to “link all of these organizations together and work in a common platform to successfully deliver a project.”

Yet another challenge, he said, is the need to be “very clear on the way we divide up work and standardize work packages. These packages must be global in nature, allowing our project teams to effectively execute work amongst different project delivery disciplines and via centers of excellence around the world.”

Brad Vaughan, Senior Vice President and CIO, Black & Veatch, took the discussions in a slightly different direction by explaining why Black & Veatch, an engineering consulting and construction company, decided to source expanded IT coverage through a global IT strategic partner. The immediate goal was to enable IT to meet the growing demands of the company’s widely distributed global enterprise as rapidly and as efficiently as possible.

Vaughan added that by properly leveraging these sourced capabilities, IT at Black & Veatch is becoming much more of a “strategy influencer,” rather than simply “an order taker.” In this elevated capacity, said Vaughan, IT is assuming the role of “business model innovator, driving business opportunities through services or by facilitating mergers and acquisitions.”

To review a detailed summary of the CIO survey results, .